Hiring C-Suite Leadership; Who Should I Hire First?

Selecting senior leadership team members is among the most significant – and perhaps transformative – choices a company can make.

Whether yours is an up-and-coming business or an established organization facing a critical pivot point, hiring C-suite executives is an opportunity to take a closer look at your organization’s top priorities and hire accordingly.

To guide you through this process, here are six key questions to consider:

1. Whom should you hire first?

For small or startup companies, typically the founder has the title and function of CEO. In businesses rooted in a partnership, titles may be shared or divided in a way to reflect individual strengths and experiences.

The traditional first C-suite executive hire

Assuming the founding leadership has specialized knowledge outside of money matters, often the first new leader to be on-boarded or promoted through the ranks is a chief financial officer (CFO).

At least that’s how things have been done traditionally.

More recently the financial duties typically tied to the CFO have been assigned to a controller, a certified public accountant (CPA) or even a consultant.

If bookkeeping practices are kept in reasonable order and someone can manage the books, tackle closing and financial reporting, then there’s no requirement that the most senior financial person have a C-suite title, saving you a permanent post and a corresponding salary.

Larger, established organizations may discover the departure of a CFO is a great time to reconsider the post and its necessity. Outsourcing financial oversight responsibilities may both make sense for your workflow and save money.

The CFO job duties have recently shifted to focus more heavily on M&A, due diligence, treasury and initial public offerings (IPO). If your need does not include any of these factors, then an individual with the title of CFO may not be needed in your organization. 

The modern first C-suite executive hire

For many modern companies, it may be wiser to invest significant money and energy toward securing a chief technical officer (CTO) or chief information officer (CIO).

A great CTO or CIO:

  • Understands the ins-and-outs of your organization
  • May be charged with ensuring the reliability and implementation of automated accounting, procurement and sales customer relations management (CRM) tools
  • May have responsibilities that cut across several areas, making the position more mission-critical than a CFO

Beyond the areas of finance and information technology, the nature of the work and size of the company will dictate whether or not additional C-suite positions are needed for operations, marketing, compliance, human resources or general counsel.

Similar to the CFO role, many companies find outsourcing these positions can keep overall costs lower than the salary and benefit packages that individual C-suite officers might reasonably expect. Potential savings can be used in all sorts of ways, from research and development to expanding your sales team.

2. How do you attract top-notch C-suite executives?

Frankly, whether you’re looking for a CEO or any other C-suite positions, the work of recruiting, hiring and retaining a great employee begins long before a job announcement is drafted.

Developing a clear sense of mission and building a culture that genuinely reflects that purpose is vital. If your culture doesn’t authentically reflect your overall objectives and vice versa, it can be difficult to attract great candidates.

People in every industry talk amongst themselves and word can spread if there are negative behaviors or a short-sighted vision in place. A rapid succession of departures from key posts by well-regarded individuals can be red flags to outsiders, even if existing leaders believe they’re making changes for the greater good.

At the same time, a company with an excellent reputation within their industry may find themselves inundated with applications from top-notch candidates.

To discuss your company’s recruitment and HR needs in more detail please contact WhiteWater Consulting LLC at 704-236-3131 or chuck@whitewaterconsulting.net.

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